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Table tennis, ping pong, wiff-waff: call it what you will, it’s increasingly popular in the UK, with 2.4 million players. Now there are suggestions it could even help with conditions like dementia.
First, he took on my dad, writes Channel 4 News Online Producer Jennifer Rigby.
“Let’s put money on it,” he said. My dad was a little reluctant. While his opponent, Ken Leighton, seemed pretty confident in his own table tennis abilities, dad was a bit less convinced – not least because Ken is 85 years old.
This turned out to be a fairly serious under-estimation of Ken’s ping pong skills. Ken thrashed him. Then, a few months later, I played Ken. He thrashed me too. I reminded him of these games recently.
Let’s put money on it. The challenge from 85-year-old table tennis player, Ken Leighton, to his much younger opponent.
“I think your dad thought he wasn’t going to get a game… He went home with his tail between his legs,” said Ken, laughing. “It’s happened before.” Ken started playing table tennis when he was in the army, in 1945. That was 68 years ago.
“I had a decent bat which I still use today,” he said. “It’s got a mark on the back where my fingers have been – it’s taken the rubber off.”
Ping pong for all ages
Ken, who lives in Lancashire, is one of a host of older people who are finding that table tennis is a game for all ages. Last year, a documentary made by Britdoc/Banyak Films called Ping Pong followed eight players on their way to the over-80s world table tennis championships in China.
The 3,500 competitors may be elderly, but they are fierce on the table – and off it.
“This old girl, I don’t care how good she is. I should get her. She can’t move,” says one of the female players, talking about the oldest player in the 2010 tournament: 101-year-old Dorothy DeLow, from Australia.
I was playing table tennis, and I think that saved me. 101-year-old Dorothy DeLow, a competitor in the over-80s table tennis world championships
But the film has a serious side to it as well. Dorothy tells the filmmakers: “I lost my husband and my daughter and I was playing table tennis, and I think that saved me.”
Another competitor, Inge Herman, who is 90 in the film, stopped eating and drinking when her husband died 15 years ago, and became “confused”. Then she discovered table tennis – and is shown in the film smashing her opponents, clearly together, and seemingly not at all “confused”.
Ken would agree that table tennis has helped keep him fit. He recently had to have an operation, which doctors said they would not have undertaken on a man of his age if he wasn’t so healthy.
“Without a shadow of a doubt [it has helped me]. The doctor said if I hadn’t been fit, they wouldn’t have done the operation. And it’s absolutely helped me mentally as well. I think it’s great,” he said.
Now scientists who have seen the Ping Pong film want to test whether there is any scientific basis behind the improvements some of the characters showed after playing table tennis. At the same time, the filmmakers are taking the film and “ping pong kits” to care homes and community centres around the country to try and encourage older people to play – both for the physical and mental benefits.
Obviously, keeping fit is as good for older people as it is for anyone. But in particular, scientists have shown that exercise is very good at preventing dementia and helping with the symptoms of the disease. But is table tennis any better at this than other sports? Dr Matthew Kempton from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London wants to find out.
“You see this film, and you’re quite inspired by some of the characters there and some of the changes in their symptoms and the improvement, and what we really want to do now is the science. In the film, it’s more anecdotal evidence, what we want to do now is test the science,” he told Channel 4 News.
The power of ping pong
He said table tennis has the potential to be helpful for older people with dementia in particular because it combines physical activity with spatial skills, cognition and keeping social.
“Previous research has shown that exercise has actually increased the volume of an area in the brain called the hippocampus,” he explained.
“This area is very important in dementia, especially in Alzheimer’s disease. It is important in the formation of new memories, and this area gets smaller in people with Alzheimer’s. So what we’d be interested in looking at is, while people are playing these table tennis games, or are engaged in more activity, does this area of the brain actually increase in volume? Is there more blood flow and so on, in the hippocampus?”
‘Because of your age, they think you’re a pushover. They said: ‘You’ll be our secret weapon.’ Ken Leighton
The team are trying to get funding now to do the work, but in the meantime experts say that it’s part of a wider attempt to encourage older people to keep active, particularly to prevent or help with conditions like Alzheimer’s.
George McNamara from the Alzheimer’s Society told Channel 4 News: “Every person with dementia is different, and what might be of interest to one person might be table tennis, it might be swimming, it might be talking about the past sporting glories of their football club. But one of the things we do know is that people can live well with dementia.”
And Ken? He’s not playing right now because of his illness, but he hopes to be back. Just before he got ill, a local team asked him to play for them.
“Because of your age, they think you’re a pushover. They said ‘you’ll be our secret weapon,'” he said.
But while Ken is still hoping to keep his talents under wraps, it’s another story for the table tennis campaigners.
If their message gets across in the care homes around the country, they hope potential health benefits of table tennis for older people will not be kept secret for long.
Copy and images taken from Channel 4.com
SAEF Table Tennis Therapy Program is an innovative tool designed to benefit early stage Alzheimer’s individuals through carefully supervised instructions in “table tennis therapy.”
Our work at SAEF is based on a Japanese clinical study, “The Effectiveness of Exercise Intervention on Brain Disease Patients: Utilizing Table Tennis as a Rehabilitation Program” conducted by Dr. Teruaki Mori and Dr. Tomohiko Sato that has demonstrated “table tennis” uniquely activates as many as five separate portions of the brain simultaneously – thus producing an increased awareness and improved state of cognition in the participants. Even Oprah’s favorite physician, Dr. Mehmet Oz, dedicated a prime segment of his television show on the benefits of ping-pong, describing it as his favorite ‘brain sport.’ This segment can be viewed at: http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/secret-ping-pong
SAEF has the unique distinction of being the only organization in the United States currently utilizing “table tennis” as a beneficial therapy program for patients with early stage Alzheimer’s and various forms of dementia. Please visit the Jewish Journal for a detailed article about the SAEF Table Tennis Therapy Program.
The SAEF’s Alzheimer’s Table Tennis Therapy Program has been met with great success through amazing results and community support. Alzheimer’s Association of America’s early stage clinical manager, Nicole Feingold states, “The SAEF Alzheimer’s Program is both innovative and exciting. I am thrilled to be able to offer another activity option for my early stage clients.” Leeza Gibbon’s Foundation’s advocate Yael Wytze adds, “SAEF’s program gives me hope for new approaches to combating the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease. It serves as a wonderful tool and outlet for the individuals with early stage memory loss and their loved ones.”
Based on research, personal testimonials and observation there is a body of evidence suggesting that the game of table tennis provides multiple benefits by engaging patients in a form of physical and mental stimulation that is therapeutic and enjoyed immensely by participants.
We are currently seeking support to continue our program. Our ultimate goal is to provide this extraordinary therapeutic experience to many more who have lost so much through this tragic and mysterious disease – and offer them a sense of hope for a future they may still own.
Copy taken from SAEF.com
Inspiring armless table tennis player squares off against the world’s best
Meet Ibrahim Hamato, an inspirational table tennis player who can hold his own against some of the world’s best despite missing both his arms. Hamato visited the 2014 World Team Table Tennis Championships in Tokyo and met the top-ranked players in the sport. According to the video, Hamato had an accident as a child, but it didn’t stop him from playing table tennis.
“Three years after my accident I wanted to play again holding the racket under my arm, but it didn’t work out. After trying different options I found myself playing with my mouth.”
Ping-Pong Improves Brain Function
It’s more than a fun game. It also helps with detection and treatment of autism, Asperger’s, Alzheimer’s, dyslexia, and more.
I have many a fond memory of spending summer afternoons and evenings with my dad and neighbors playing Ping-Pong on a regulation table set up in my driveway. Whether competitive tournaments that attracted everyone under the age of 12 on my block or relaxing volleys with my parents, it was always fun. But I never imagined that what seemed like a simple game could enhance mental health until I started a Ping-Pong Club at my high school a couple of years ago.
The unpredictability and high speed of play require mental and physical agility. Making speedy decisions, exercising fine-motor control, and developing highly efficient hand-eye coordination can help improve function in both the primary motor cortex and cerebellum.Like most clubs, the first few meetings attracted a crowd of curious teens, but as the year progressed, the club started to shrink in size. Eventually it was reduced to about 10 loyal participants. I was really surprised to notice that almost all of them were students with special needs.
I wondered why. A little research clarified that Ping-Pong (also known as table tennis) is considered a “brain sport.” It activates different parts of the brain simultaneously and stimulates overall awareness, while its fast pace helps sharpen alertness and decision making. Wendy Suzuki, Ph.D., professor of neuroscience and psychology at New York University, cites the sport’s impressive and varied benefits: “In Ping-Pong, we have enhanced motor functions, enhanced strategy functions, and enhanced long-term memory functions.” The unpredictability and high speed of play require mental and physical agility. Making speedy decisions, exercising fine-motor control, and developing highly efficient hand-eye coordination can help improve function in both the primary motor cortex and cerebellum.
Rob Bernstein, an autism and Asperger’s specialist, has used table tennis in workshops with children with disabilities in order to improve their social and motor skills.Ping-Pong can also help diagnose ADHD, autism, and dyslexia. The eye tracking involved in games requiring hand-eye coordination has been shown to be effective for early detection of these disorders. Rob Bernstein, an autism and Asperger’s specialist, has used table tennis in workshops with children with disabilities in order to improve their social and motor skills. “Ping-Pong provides the perfect opportunity for me to help these kids deal with social interactions,” he says. “They have to be able to say ‘nice shot’ when an opponent gets a point, ask someone new to play—even just learn how to play by the rules.”
The students in my club played with enthusiasm and cooperation, even if upon joining the group they were having trouble connecting with others. It wound up being not just fun for them individually but a socially stimulating activity that helped them interact with each other.
Elderly Ping-Pong players tend to experience functional improvements in the frontal lobes of the brain, which regulate decision making, problem solving, and voluntary movements. Patients who went through a table tennis rehabilitation program also tended to be less dependent on wheelchairs.But the benefits don’t stop there. Patients with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease have also been helped by treatment programs using Ping-Pong. A 1997 clinical study in Japan discovered that people with brain diseases who played the game experienced a boost in brain function and awareness, as well as a decrease in dementia and depression. The study found that elderly Ping-Pong players tend to experience functional improvements in the frontal lobes of the brain, which regulate decision making, problem solving, and voluntary movements. Patients who went through a table tennis rehabilitation program also tended to be less dependent on wheelchairs.
These observed treatment effects have prompted places like the Gilbert Table Tennis Center in Los Angeles to implement table tennis therapy programs. Here, Alzheimer’s patients take hourlong “lessons” that involve simple volley exercises, and the results have been promising for improving memory.
Now when I pick up my paddle, I think of all the benefits this simple, fun game can give players—athletically, socially, emotionally, and cognitively. Who would have thought that sending a little white ball over a net could accomplish so much?
Copy by Violet Decker
Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon, puts on a good front.
“I have a paddle and I have a paddle case, which makes me look very professional,” she confessed to a crowd at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. “But, in fact, I suck.”
Sarandon admits that despite co-owning the table tennis franchise, SPiN, her game is not for show. But according to one New York professor, Sarandon could be doing more than just having a little fun with friends.
“In ping pong, we have enhanced motor functions, enhanced strategy functions and enhanced long-term memory functions,” explained Dr. Wendy Suzuki, professor of neuroscience and psychology at New York University.
According to Suzuki, table tennis works parts of the brain that are responsible for movement, fine motor skills and strategy — areas that could be growing stronger with each match. While scientists have yet to study the brain activity of ping pong players, Suzuki believes the game enhances brain function unlike any other sport.
Table Tennis Is the No. 1 Brain Sport, Scientists Say
Researchers at The American Museum of Natural History invited Sarandon, Suzuki and a panel of table tennis enthusiasts to become part of their latest exhibition, “Brain: The Inside Story. ”
For one night under the iconic blue whale, high above the museum floor, visitors listened to the science behind one of America’s favorite basement pastimes. While the ping pong discussion was limited to one night, the brain exhibition continues through the summer.
“Table tennis is the number one brain sport, so we figured this was a great way to get people interested in the brain because a lot of people play table tennis,” explained Rob DeSalle, curator for the Museum.
Holding a human brain to get players’ attentions, Suzuki pointed out specific areas that are stimulated by playing table tennis.
According to Suzuki, there are three major areas affected by this high-speed game. The fine motor control and exquisite hand-eye coordination involved with dodging and diving for the ball engages and enhances the primary motor cortex and cerebellum, areas responsible for arm and hand movement.
Ping Pong, Like Chess, Involves Strategy
Secondly, by anticipating an opponent’s shot, a player uses the prefrontal cortex for strategic planning. Lastly, the aerobic exercise from the physical activity of the game stimulates the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is responsible for allowing us to form and retain long-term facts and events.
“There’s a lot of strategy and the area that gets enhanced is the prefrontal cortex, critical not only in ping pong, but also in chess,” said Suzuki.
That could explain why fellow panelist, Will Shortz, calls ping pong, “chess on steroids.” Since 1993, Shortz has been the man responsible for deciding just how much strategy is needed to solve crossword puzzles for The New York Times.
A self-confessed table tennis addict and puzzle editor, Shortz says the key to both of his favorite activities is strategy.
“Crosswords and table tennis go great together, they’re both mind sports,” he said.
Last November, 11-year-old Alex Lipan focused all of his attention on that bouncing ball to become the top-ranked table tennis player, for ages 12 and under, in the state of New York.
Copy taken from ABC News